Military leaders speak in favor of insurance coverage for servicewomen in need of abortion care in cases of rape and incest.
A change was made to this article at 11:37 a.m. on May 24th, 2012 to correct an error and clarify portions of existing law. The changes are apparent in the piece itself.
The Senate Armed Services passed an amendment today to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would end the ban on insurance coverage of abortion care for military women and dependents who experience rape or incest.
The amendment was introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). In November 2011, anti-choice senators refused to allow the Shaheen amendment to come to the floor, so the 2012 NDAA was signed into law with the ban in place. Today’s vote affects the FY 2013 NDAA.
There are some 400,000 women in the United States Armed Forces; they and their families receive health care and insurance through the Department of Defense’s Military Health System. The department currently denies coverage for abortion care except when a pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Unlike other federal bans on abortion coverage, the military ban provides no exception for insurance coverage in cases of rape and incest.
As a result, those seeking safe abortion care after rape or incest must pay out-of-pocket for such care at a military facility. But because physicians on military bases are prohibited from providing abortion care, it is not actually available to military women in need even under the narrow conditions technically allowed.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the current law says the following:
10 USC 1093(a) says “Restrictions on Use of Funds: funds available to the DoD may not be used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.”
10 USC 1090(b) says “Restriction of Use of Facilities: no medical treatment facility or other facility of the DoD may be used to perform an abortion except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.”
The first is referred to as “the rape and incest insurance coverage ban,” and the second “the facilities ban.”
Taken together, here is what they mean for service women:
- If your life is endangered, you can have an abortion on a military treatment facility and the government will pay for it.
- If you’re pregnant because of rape or incest, you can have the abortion on a military treatment facility but there is no Department of Defense insurance coverage available to cover the procedure (i.e. you have to pay for it yourself).
- If you need an abortion for any other reason (e.g. the condom breaks, fetal anomaly, etc ), too bad – can’t do it on a military treatment facility and DoD won’t pay for it.
As a result, servicewomen who are pregnant due to rape are left uncovered, and servicewomen facing an unintended pregnancy from contraceptive failure or unprotected sex are often forced to choose between taking leave and traveling far distances to an American provider, seeking services from a local, unfamiliar health care facility (if abortion is legal and they are not in a combat zone), having an unsafe procedure, or attempting to self-induce an abortion.
The Shaheen Amendment, if passed by Congress and signed by the President, would address one of these issues by bringing the military’s health insurance policy in line with the policy that governs other federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program and as a result enable servicewomen to receive insurance coverage for abortion care. (Another amendment, the MARCH Act, which has not been passed, would address both pieces by ensuring funding for rape and incest (i.e. Shaheen Amendment) and enabling women to access safe abortion on base for any reason, though this would be paid out of pocket with no DoD funds involved (this latter portion comes originally from the Burris amendment 2010).
The Shaheen amendment is strongly supported by military leaders, physicians, and servicewomen themselves.
“Women who put their lives on the line fighting for our freedom shouldn’t be denied reproductive health care services,” said Gale Pollock, Major General, US Army (Ret.).
“The Shaheen Amendment restores fairness to discriminatory legislation that denies servicewomen access to the healthcare they need. At the very least, our servicewomen deserve the same level of coverage as other women who rely on the government for their health care.”
“Servicewomen promise to support and defend the Constitution and our country,” said Cindy McNally, Chief Master Sergeant, US Air Force (Ret.). “It’s unconscionable to turn our backs on them in their time of need. We owe it to them — and to ourselves — to get this one right.”
“The Shaheen amendment is greatly needed. It’s simply unfair to deny our military women the same abortion coverage that other government employees have,” said Dennis Laich, Major General, US Army (Ret.). “Our servicewomen fight every day for us – it’s time we fight for them.”
“This is about equity,” said Senator Shaheen. “Civilian women who depend on the federal government for health insurance – whether they are postal workers or Medicaid recipients – have the right to access affordable abortion care if they are sexually assaulted. It is only fair that the thousands of brave women in uniform fighting to protect our freedoms are treated the same.”